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Minds on

MINDS ON

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is perspective, not the truth.

~ Marcus Aurelius

This is the discussion icon. Justifying Belief

How do we go about justifying belief? Is it something that requires empirical proof, or can we justify a belief purely by instinct or a ‘gut feeling?’

Watch the following video clip of the 2016 Russia/Canada World Cup of Hockey semi-final game and determine the answers to the following questions:

  1. How many times did the Canadian players pass the puck?
  2. How many shots did the Canadian goalie stop?
  3. How many goals did the Russian team get?
  4. Is Sidney Crosby the best player on the Canadian team?

Make sure you explain how you came to your determination for each response and prepare to share your results in the class discussion.

 
Action.

ACTION

Belief, Knowledge, and Truth: Interrelations and Distinctions

What does it take to know something?

In the Minds On section, you had an opportunity to explore quantitative and qualitative ways in which the class justified their beliefs. Perhaps some of your classmates even made statements that what they knew was true, just ‘because.’

When analysing knowledge, we need to make a distinction between belief, knowledge, and truth because there is an interrelation(definition:A reciprocal relationship.) between the three.

This is an image of a Venn diagram where two circles of “truth” and “belief” overlap to form “knowledge.”
What is the interrelation between truth, knowledge, and belief?

Beliefs

Beliefs are inherently subjective. Individually and collectively, we can hold a belief for which we have a particular sense of certitude and conviction. Now, this does not mean that just because one is certain that one’s belief is true, that it is not infallible. After all, simply believing in something does not make it true. Moreover, beliefs are often not verified by any objective method. Instead, we find ways to justify beliefs, such as using the evidence of one’s senses, appealing to an authoritative testimony, or appealing to reason.
 
How strongly we hold certain beliefs is also variable. Some beliefs are ingrained, such as those held by a culture or a religion, just as some beliefs are held ‘loosely’ and could change given a new experience or information (although it could be argued that loosely held beliefs are merely opinions).

Knowledge

Knowledge, especially propositional knowledge (we are not talking about knowledge in the sense of an ability or a skill but a statement or an affirmation that is either true or false) is a belief that can be verified and understandably, carries with it a high sense of certitude. In fact, a classical account of knowledge defines it as “justified true belief.” By that definition, knowledge has to fulfil the criteria:

  1. of being a belief,
  2. of being true, and
  3. of being justified.

We attain knowledge, in epistemological terms, in the following three ways:

  • Empirical: Knowledge of the world is based on one’s experiences, particularly one’s sensory experiences.

  • Rational: Knowledge of the world is based on reason alone, independent of experience.

  • Transcendental-Idealism: Knowledge of the world is about how things appear to a person (the transcendental ego), not about those things as they are, in and of themselves.

Truth

In simplistic terms, truth is a statement about the way the world actually is. Truth is the assertions, beliefs, thoughts, or propositions that are said, in ordinary discourse, to agree with the facts or to state what is the case. We can speak of objective(definition:Objectivity means the state or quality of being true even outside a subject's individual biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings.) truths, subjective(definition:A subjective truth is a truth based on a person's perspective, feelings, or opinions.) truths, and universal (definition:A universal truth is considered logically to transcend the state of the physical universe. It is a truth that is seen as eternal or as absolute.) truths. We can be sceptical about the truth or adhere to the doctrine of relativism.

In epistemology, we speak of ‘theories of truth’ that attempt to analyse the notion of truth, particularly in terms of how it relates to knowledge, belief, and justification.

How Do We Justify Belief?

In the previous activity of this unit, we began an exploration of justified true belief - otherwise known as the ‘JTB theory(definition:Justification - you have reason to believe in something; Truth - since false propositions cannot be known, for something to count as knowledge, it must be actually true; Belief - because one cannot know something that one does not believe in. ).’ You may recall the following schema.

Using the schema ‘S knows that p’, where ‘S’ stands for the subject who has knowledge and ‘p’ for the proposition that is known, what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for S to know that p?

S knows that p if and only if:
S believes that p, and
is true, and
S is justified in believing that p.

According to this traditional approach to knowledge:

  • false propositions cannot be known, therefore, knowledge requires truth;
  • a proposition that S doesn't even believe in can't be a proposition that S knows, therefore, knowledge requires belief;
  • S's being correct in believing that p might merely be a matter of luck, therefore, knowledge requires a third element, traditionally identified as ‘justification.’

Thus, if we approach knowledge as JTB: S knows that p if and only if p is true and S is justified in believing that p.

According to this analysis, the three conditions — truth, belief, and justification — are individually necessary and jointly sufficient for knowledge.

A belief is said to be justified if there is at least one ‘justifier,’ such as an item of evidence that justifies it.

Examples of Justifiers

We often use justifiers as the reason why we hold on to certain beliefs, even in the absence of objective verification. Even when a claim is in doubt, justification can be used to support the claim and reduce or remove the doubt. Below is a small sampling of common justifiers.

  • A Priori Knowledge - knowledge or justification that is independent of experience.

  • Deduction - The inference of particular instances by reference to a general law or principle.

  • Fatalism - The belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable.

  • Groupthink - The practice of approaching problems or issues as matters that are best dealt with by consensus of a group rather than by individuals acting independently.

  • Hedonism - The ethical theory that pleasure is the highest good and proper aim of human life.

  • Intuition - A thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning.

  • Law of Nature - A regularly occurring or apparently inevitable phenomenon observable in human society.

  • Occam's Razor - Explanations of unknown phenomena are sought first in terms of known quantities.

  • Probability Theory - The extent to which an event is likely to occur.

  • Scientific Method - Relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data, and the hypothesis is empirically tested.

This is the Portfolio icon. Philosophy Notebook: Applying JTB

Justification is how we explain why we believe what we believe to be true. Look at the following scenario. At each stage of the scenario, jot down in your Philosopher’s notebook how you would justify your belief, indicating what justifiers or evidence you would use, and whether your belief is ‘still true’ as the scenario progresses.

TheSheepintheField

Long Description

 

Scenario Debrief

The scenario you just experienced is an example of a Gettier case. Gettier cases are meant to challenge the JTB account of propositional knowledge. For example, when you arrived at the final section of the scenario were you still able to justify your belief that you saw a sheep? Take this one step further. Suppose you were asked if you had ‘knowledge’ of sheep in that field. Could you unequivocally state the affirmative?

Reflect on that and make a concluding statement to ‘The Sheep in the Field’ scenario. Are limits to how far one can justify a belief?

 

The Theories of Truth

How do we study or analyse ‘truth?’

As we have discovered, ‘knowing’ what truth is often does not require objective validity - not all truths are established truths - and people have a variety of reasons and justifications as to why they choose to believe, or not believe a thing. So how do we study ‘truth’ when there is a distinction between truth as a matter of how things are, and not how they can be shown to be? When the former could be a matter of perspective, and the latter is often a matter of belief?

Epistemological Tests of Truth

Correspondence

This is an image of a sign that reads, ‘The Real World.

The Correspondence Theory of Truth is probably the most common and widespread way of understanding the nature of truth and falsehood. The correspondence theory of truth states that the truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to the world and whether it accurately describes, or corresponds, with that world. Basically, the correspondence theory argues that truth is whatever matches reality. This is as close as we come to "objective" knowledge, and knowledge of objects as “things in themselves.” The earth is round, the sun rises in the East - these are examples of widely established and accepted truths.

Coherence

This is an image of a mob of people.

Often associated with Idealism(definition:Systems of thought in which the objects of knowledge are held to be in some way dependent on the activity of mind.), the Coherence Theory of Truth bases the truth of a belief on the degree to which it coheres - or aligns - with all other beliefs in a system of beliefs. Put simply: a belief is true when we are able to logically incorporate it into a larger and more complex system of beliefs, without creating a contradiction. One example is a popular set of cultural or social beliefs - if everyone else agrees that something is the truth, then it must be so. While possibly not an accurate way of assessing the truth - as it relies on groupthink or conformity - it is how we often assess truth in our daily lives; or, at least, it is how we decide the falsity of a statement as it does not ‘fit’ our system of beliefs.

Pragmatic

This is an image of people working in a science laboratory.

A Pragmatic Theory of Truth contends that one cannot conceive of the truth of a belief without also being able to conceive of how, if true, belief matters in the world. Simply put, we assess the validity of a ‘truth’ depending on how useful - pragmatic - it is to believe in that ‘truth.’ If it is not useful, then it is not true, and we reject it. So a truth is not so much about how the world really is, but how useful a truth will be to assist in understanding and predicting how the way the world works. This means that pragmatic truths can only be discovered  through interaction with the world.

A criticism of the pragmatic theory of truth is that possessing the characteristic of ‘useful’ does not necessarily mean that a thing is ‘true.’ A useful belief is not necessarily the same as a true belief.
 

Does Science Give Truth?

Philosophy asks us what the meaning of truth is; Science shows what can be proven. It would seem that these are contrasting ideologies(definition:A set of beliefs or principles.), but seeking the validity of truth depends on what definition you use for it. It is common to assume that something that can be empirically proven is unequivocally true. Yet we know, historically, that even scientific truths(definition:Explanations and theories that correctly predict new results from new observations or experiments bring us closer to a true understanding of nature and the rules by which it operates.) change when we form new models that better represent reality. For example, the cosmological theories of the universe such as Ptolemaic Universe(definition:The model for the universe, put forth by the Ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy, that had the earth at the centre, with the sun, moon, planets, and stars revolving around it. ) are being supplanted by Multiverse Theory(definition:The multiverse (or meta-universe) is the hypothetical set of possible universes, including the universe in which we live. Together, these universes comprise everything that exists: the entirety of space, time, matter, energy, and the physical laws and constants that describe them.).

To understand what we mean by ‘scientific truth,’ we first need to understand how we use the word, ‘truth.’

What Do We Mean When We Use the Word, ‘Truth?’

Subjective truth is what is true about your experience of the world. This is aligned to Correspondence and Coherence theories of truth.

Deductive truth, on the other hand, is that contained within and defined by deductive logic. Here’s an example:

  • Premise 1: All Gronks are green.
  • Premise 2: Fred is a Gronk.
  • Conclusion: Fred is green.

Even if we have no idea what a Gronk is, the conclusion of this argument is true if the premises are true. If you think this isn’t the case, you’re wrong. It’s not a matter of opinion or personal taste.

And then there is Inductive Truth. Induction works mostly through analogy and generalization. It relies on empirical observation. It is not subjective. Each experiment that results in a truth is used to predict the next possible truth - scaffolding one’s knowledge on the probability and predictability that B always happens after A. So when Science speaks about ‘truth’ it is from a position of confidence of proven reliability, outside the subjective perspective.

Basically, scientific truth is not the same as epistemological truth.

What if There are No Absolute Truths? 

As we have seen in our explorations throughout this activity, there is a wide range of ideas, concepts, and perspectives as to what is ‘truth.’

Relativism is the belief that there is no absolute truth- or more to the point, that a multitude of truths exist - individual truths, cultural truths, and moral truths.

As you can imagine, critics of relativism point out that saying that if all things are true, relatively speaking, depending on one’s frame of reference, this leads to confusion and ambiguity. Despite this, no matter what form of relativism, all forms agree that no one form is above all others, and that truth depends on one’s standpoint, whether that is culture-based or era-based, for example.

In contemporary philosophy, the most widely discussed forms of relativism are moral, cognitive, aesthetic, and cultural.

Moral Relativism

Moral relativism is concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures. Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments, such as those employing concepts like good and bad, right or wrong, should only be assessed relative to a particular standpoint of a culture. For example, what would be considered a truth or belief in one culture, may not be the same as another culture. This does not mean that one culture is wrong and another is right - it is relative.

Cognitive Relativism

Cognitive relativism asserts the relativity of truth. Truth is dependent on the standpoint from where the truth is being judged. If it is the standpoint of an individual - then it is subjectivism. If it is that of a culture - then it is cultural relativism. Cognitive relativism allows for a spectrum of judgments.

Aesthetic Relativism

Aesthetic relativism is the philosophical view that the judgement of beauty is relative to different individuals and/or cultures. Thus, there are no universal criteria of beauty.

Cultural Relativism

Cultural relativism is the principle of regarding the beliefs, values, and practices of a culture from the viewpoint of that culture, itself. Cultural relativists believe that all cultures are worthy in their own right and are of equal value. Diverse cultures - even those with conflicting moral beliefs from one’s own -  are not to be considered in terms of right and wrong or good and bad from the perspective of those not part of the culture.

This is the dropbox icon. Justifying Belief: Exploring Elements of Epistemology in Popular Media

Your task is to write a philosophical response that describes the process of reasoning that characters in popular media use to determine fact from opinion, and truth from ideology. In essence, the characters are trying to determine and establish what justifies belief.

Below is a list of suggestions. Confer with your teacher if you wish to select a movie or television series of your choice; you should ensure that issues and situations of epistemological reasoning can demonstrated. In the case of a television show that is thirty minutes in length, please watch three or four episodes so that you can establish a character’s pattern of reasoning.

  • Legion (FX TV Series, 2017 - )
  • The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu TV Series, 2017 - )
  • Stranger Things (Netflix TV Series, 2016 - )
  • Westworld (HBO, 2016 - )
  • Over the Garden Wall (Animated TV Mini-Series, 2014)
  • Orphan Black (TV Series, 2013 - 2017)
  • The Newsroom (TV Series, 2012 - 2014)
  • Inception (Movie, 2010)
  • Dollhouse (TV Series, 2009 - 2010)
  • The Matrix (Movie, 1999)
  • Twin Peaks (TV Series, 1990 - 1991)
  • Total Recall (Movie, 1990)
  • They Live (Movie, 1988)
  • The Terminator (Movie, 1984)
  • Circle of Iron (Movie, 1978)
  • 12 Angry Men (Movie, 1957)
  • Rear Window (Movie, 1954)
  • Rashomon (Movie, 1950)

Task Requirements:

  1. Style: informal and analytic
  2. Format: position paper or comparative analysis.
  3. Research: Provide specific evidence from your media source, as well as material from this course and other external sources necessary to support your ideas.
  4. Length: 800 words maximum

Writing Prompts:

Insofar as epistemology is concerned, some of the central questions or writing prompts inherent in this field of Philosophy are below:

  • What distinguishes justified belief from opinion?
  • What is the difference between knowledge and opinion?
  • What is the relationship between ideology and fact?
  • What is the difference between fact and truth?
  • Can truth ever really be objective?

In your chosen media example, complete the following:

  • explain the process of reasoning that a character takes when navigating issues related to determining and justifying belief - collectively and/or individually;
  • determine a response to one of the writing prompts; and  
  • ensure that you provide examples of her/his actions, as well as the consequences of her/his revelations, awareness, and even acceptance of what she/he learned.

As part of your analysis, hypothesize how the character’s understanding of belief informs or influences the audience’s perception of belief, truth, and how these are ultimately connected to knowledge.  You should especially consider one’s knowledge of the world and one’s place and purpose within it.

Your paper must also demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the key terms, concepts, and theories of epistemology.

Remember to archive a copy of your Media Analysis paper as you may be required to refer to it at a later date in this course.

Go To Portfolio
Consolidation

CONSOLIDATION

How Sure Do We Need to Be That Our Beliefs Correspond to the Actual World?

The Mandela Effect

The Mandela Effect refers to a phenomenon in which a large number of people share false memories of past events. In psychiatry, this is known as confabulation. It occurs when a large number of people recall something that did not happen. For example, this phenomenon was noted in 2010 by blogger Fiona Broome after realizing that a number of people at a convention she was attending were all convinced that former South African President Nelson Mandela died during his imprisonment in the 1980s.

When we consider the Correspondence and Coherence epistemological theories of truth, that rely on the collective acceptance of a truth, what happens when a large number of people hold on to a belief based on a false memory? What happens when the ‘truth’ is a mistruth, illusion, or Fictionalism ?(definition:Fictionalism is the view in philosophy according to which statements that appear to be descriptions of the world should not be construed as such, but should instead be understood as cases of "make believe," of pretending to treat something as literally true (a "useful fiction").) How does this have an impact on our worldview?

 

This is the discussion icon. Philosopher’s Notebook: Trusting Our Senses

Based on our study so far, respond to the following questions and include relevant real life examples that illustrates and supports your response.

  • How can we trust our senses?
  • Do we place too much emphasis on our senses, as in when there are problems in eyewitness accounts?
  • How do we know we are not being tricked right now?

Ensure that you demonstrate your reasoning and be prepared to defend your position in a short response of approximately 100 words.Your real world examples should be gathered from easily accessible sources - the type of external world justifiers that can be ‘sensed’ by anyone in the public domain.

Make sure you archive your entry and examples as you may be asked to revisit it in another activity.

 
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